Giving and acts of kindness impacts our positive wellbeing

We are all trying to be more focused on how we can look after ourselves in our busy day-to-day lives. The New Economics Foundation sets out five actions to improve your personal wellbeing. Giving is one of these actions, alongside connect, be active, taking notice and keep learning.

But how does giving make us feel better? Well when we give to others by either helping or supporting them, it makes us feel good. In turn, we are then better at making those feel good around us too. Studies have shown we are happier when we are spending money on others. We experience more positive emotions when engaging in acts of kindness for others, rather than for ourselves.

The idea of giving is also linked to business success as discussed by Adam Grant in his book Give & Take. Grant explores that in our changing world of work, success is increasingly dependent on how we interact with others. It examines whether giving is the secret to getting ahead.

To put giving in perspective it does not mean spending weeks signing up to help those less fortunate than ourselves in faraway lands. Acts of giving both small and large are associated with positive mental wellbeing.

Here are examples of giving in its different forms

Today, you could

  • Offer your seat to a stranger on the train or bus during your morning commute
  • Pay for someone’s coffee in the queue at the café
  • Phone a relative or a friend you have not spoken to for ages
  • Ask a colleague how they are and pay attention when listening to the answer

This week, you could

  • Volunteer in your local school, hospital or community
  • Surprise a friend and arrange a meal or trip out
  • Offer to help a colleague with a piece of work or deadline
  • Help a relative with a chore or DIY project around the home or garden

Understanding how giving impacts on physical and mental wellbeing

Giving to others can have an impact on both our mental and physical health. Giving can stimulate the reward areas of the brain, creating those positive feelings. People who volunteer report feeling better both mentally and physically after the experience. Links show a decrease in blood pressure, lower levels of depression and an increased satisfaction in life and our wellbeing.

Project Favela

In summer 2016, I spent two months working for Project Favela an NGO in Rocinha. Rocinha is the largest Favela in Brazil. I was coming to the end of my first year of business which had started out well. Volunteering in South America was on my list of goals since finishing my therapy. I felt this chapter was part of my recovery and something I needed to do for myself.

Many people thought I was mad to actually pack up and leave for two months. Especially as on my return I had an event with a client to kick off the launch of my wellbeing business.

Yet everything was fine. I worked remotely when needed, backed up by my team in the UK. I learned new skills, developed new experiences and felt I had given back to others who did not have a lot themselves. By living with those who struggle so much on a daily basis, this changed my frame of reference on the world. It helped me understand that life can be full and happy with little money and material possessions.

Returning to the UK I had a GP check-up. What was surprising is that my blood pressure was the lowest it had ever been. It was borderline high before the trip and it was now a steady normal. I noticed the mental changes in myself. I felt less pressure of certain expectations placed on me by myself and by others. Having been around those who see their priorities as survival and making the most of what they have.

Holiday season

We have found that giving and acts of kindness on any level can have an impact on you for the better. Yet it will have a hugely positive effect on those who are on the receiving end of your actions.

As we approach the holiday season think about a small way you can give or an act of kindness which will help someone else and I promise you will see the impact for both of you!


Ruth Cooper-Dickson


Ruth is a dynamic wellbeing specialist who runs her own consultancy. She is a practicing mental health first aider and has lived experience of a mental health condition. Ruth is a thought leader on wellbeing, from publishing articles on mental wellbeing at work, to delivering corporate wellbeing events, talks and training. She is hugely passionate about getting people living their best version of a happy stress-free life. Ruth loves coffee, fashion and reading, and she is a massive advocate for getting active - you will find her in the gym, at a class or out running marathons!

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